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Monday, Oct. 26, 2009

Dancing with ‘Cinderella’ at Milwaukee Ballet

Dance Review

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The pastel kingdom painted on the front drop revealed a world of substance and feeling in Michael Pink’s humane, new version of Cinderella for the Milwaukee Ballet. His choreography was a perfect match for the chromatic melodies and complex harmonies of Prokofiev’s score, played gorgeously by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra under Andrews Sill.

The prologue was set in an expressionist graveyard, the bare branches of Bruce Brockman’s giant trees grasping at the night sky. Cinderella’s mother’s spirit, in a gown seemingly made of light, joined the trees and let red leaves flutter from her hands onto her grieving daughter at the graveside. The trees then formed the walls of a walk-in fireplace in the house where Cinderella’s bereaved father left the girl at the mercy of a fierce stepmother and her spoiled daughters. Later, Mother’s spirit appears in the fireplace beckoning Cinderella through wisps of smoke to an enchanted place guarded by trees, now draped in giant fabric that was otherworldly under David Grill’s hallucinatory lighting. The sets and lighting, with a ghostly second-act ballroom, intensified the beauty of Peter Cazalet’s traditional 18th-century costumes.

Were the ballet less perfectly conceived, Marc Petrocci and Darren Christian McIntyre would have stolen the show on opening night with their abandoned commitment to the Stepsister roles. They were endearingly funny in the way that pouty, floppy, self-centered teenagers of either gender can be, and Pink’s choreography for them, while demanding superb technique and courage, is full of jokes on ballet comportment.

Raven Wales’ Stepmother swooped and herded like a bird of prey. The giddy moment in which she wielded a meat cleaver, ready to chop one daughter’s foot to fit the “glass” pointe shoe, was shocking and just right, a hilarious window into her desperate soul. Denis Malinkine conveyed the Father’s helplessness with great presence. Michael Linsmeier’s guardian angel was a playful, graceful soul mate. Karisa Stich’s Mother was a perfect archetype.

The superb dancer and actress Tatiana Jouravel was Cinderella on opening night. Ryan Martin was the tender Prince, whose royalty is beside the point in Pink’s conception. The choreography is inseparable from the characterizations, and these dancers filled the steps with meaning. Pink avoided every potential pitfall by focusing thoughtfully and compassionately on Cinderella’s experience. The subject is family and identity, not romance. Their duets were danced as experiments in togetherness by young people facing life as partners.